This is the million dollar question that we are often scared to ask ourselves or our therapists. After all, no amount of therapy is ever going to make those horrible evens somehow “unhappen” and disappear as if they never occurred. I’ve met a lot of people over he years who have been sexually abused and have a clear belief that they cant ever recover because the memories will always be resent.
It is very real and true that the memories persist. But, it is so important to keep in mind that a memory is just that- what is so upsetting about the memories are the feelings associated with it. These are the feelings of shame, guilt, powerlessness, fear and horror (among others). It is good to know that these feelings can be changed over time and we can both come to terms with the experience as well as learning how to let go of the feelings associated with the experience, so that what happened in the past no longer continues to rob us of our future.
Part of the process involves going through a series of changes inside ourselves, from a starting point of dread and anger, loss of trust and so on, to realising that no one else’s actions should ever need to so change our beliefs about others and life that we become prisoner to our own memories and experience. Then over time we can develop a sense of regaining our choice to interact with others again with a level of trust. This in turn enables us to start to develop a sense of having a future again, a sense of being safe and of knowing our own strengths. Some times, at the beginning of the journey we could not have imagined these changes possible!
Does this mean that we have been cured? As long as we hold the belief that cure means that we will be as if the event never happened, then we cannot have our own healing process. But, the way in which many people have struggled their way through coming to terms with their own experience and memories, is a different kind of journey. This is a journey that develops inner strength, that brings resources, attitudes and new experiences into our life that we would never have had before. Being abused changes many people permanently, but it does not mean that they can never experience healing.
It also means that we develop new way of dealing with problems, new ways of relating to people and new ways of meeting challenges head on. For a lot of people, they would never have experienced these dimensions of healing and a different kind of wholeness, without the abuse. This doesn’t make the abuse good in any way, but it is a testimony to the courage of so many people, adult and child, women and men who have used their own life’s journey as a means to make themselves bigger than the experience that originally came so near to breaking them.